The debut album by Alabama-born soul singer Ellis Hooks is a breath of fresh air on the blues and R&B scenes. For starters, Hooks' songs and sound are entirely unaffected by modern notions of sterility and restraint, or even worse, revivalism. These 13 songs burn with the same fire that the great Southern soul and R&B tracks did from the days of yore -- without sounding like them. With producer Jon Tiven -- who, along with wife Sally, also co-writes with Hooks -- the singer has crafted an entirely upstart outing, one that touches upon Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, but feels like one of the gritty New York streets Hooks has busked upon. The brokenness and hope that lie in the rough grain of Hooks' voice in "Everything's Falling Around Me" feel as much like a prayer as a wish for transcendence, supported by the biting chunkiness of Sally Tiven's popping bass strut and Jon Tiven's knotty six-string fills. Hooks goes into the groove and lets it cover him; he's singing to the heavens, but also to anyone else who is in earshot and can provide help. At the heart of the shimmering sweet soul in "Blaze Up the Town" is a tale of acceptance and reportorial regret. With a small chorus of backing vocals and wah-wah guitars trussing up the center of the mix, Hooks is free to indulge his confusion and frustration -- he seeks freedom, but doesn't want to hurt anyone in the process. In his voice is the sound of the truth as it falls subjectively out of the heart of the singer. But one also has to wonder if there has ever been a more searing, honest love song than "Your Love Is Too Strong." Here is a testament to the Beloved that Doc Pomus wishes from beyond that he had written. The instrumental arrangements here just bubble under the raw power in Hooks' singing. Tiven is a fine guitarist but, more than this, as a producer he understands that immediacy is the only way to provide the proper intimacy for a vocalist of Hooks' commitment and magnitude. There is some fine bluesy material here as well, in cuts such as the title cut, "I Been There," "Your Last Chance," and the closing "Burnt By the Flame of Love," which comes out of the rambling, shambling Elmore James tradition. All it proves is that Hooks can do it all, and that this is a first volley in a career that, if developed properly, will not only affect the music that is soul and R&B, but may also just remind listeners why it meant so much in the first place. Undeniable is a rock-solid, edifying first effort.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek